Artist's exhibit shows ethnic diversity of China

January 15, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Given China's huge population, it is not exactly a surprise to learn that it is a country of great ethnic diversity.

But it is a jolt to see that diversity expressed in a marvelous exhibition "Minorities of China" at Maryland Federation of Art Gallery on State Circle in Annapolis.

All 32 canvases were painted by Hai-Ou, a graduate of the Central Institute of Fine Art and Design in Beijing and former professor at the Hubei Fine Arts Institute of Wuhan, in eastern China.

Hai-Ou, 40, is among the first generation of Chinese artists trained in the post-Mao era. Her paintings and ceramics won renown in her native country, where she became affiliated with the Black Friday movement, a group of artists notable for willingness to experiment.

In 1989, she gave up her teaching post and immigrated to the United States. Now a resident of Crofton, she is married to Henry Delvalle, whom she met while he was teaching English in China.

Her portraits and group compositions of Chinese and Tibetan minorities and their surroundings are stunning. The sense of holy connection achieved by her renderings of the Buddhist monks of Tibet is especially strong.

Most striking of all is "Tibetan Monk Blowing Horn," a realistic 30-inch by 40-inch study of a lama issuing his clarion call to the oneness of the universe.

Hai-Ou's grandmother was Tibetan, and her father, working for the Chinese government, accompanied the Dalai Lama to Beijing for a hush-hush meeting with Chairman Mao in the 1950s. The artist recalls stories of life in Tibet she was told as a child, and when she made the deeply etched lines of "Tibetan Monk: Knowledge and Belief," she found herself staring into her father's face.

Images of Buddhist monks abound -- beating drums, meditating in their colorful, sacred caps, sharing private moments as they rest outside their temple.

Hai-Ou also is captivated by the Xingjiang, a minority living along the border with Russia. Life is harsh there, as the artist shows us the gnarled, leathery hands of a regal old woman squinting as she takes in her surroundings.

The Hani, the Miao and the Dai are three other ethnic groups represented in this display. I'm fond of the young, palpably wise Hani woman decked out in her silver headdress, worn, Hai-Ou says, to show she is of means and, therefore, deserving of a good husband.

For anyone interested in making connections to the East, "Minorities of China" is mandatory viewing. It runs through Feb. 8.

Information: 410-268-4566.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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